I completed my three years posting term in Mozambique. The Ministry issued orders of my posting back to Islamabad. The orders of my replacement’s posting to Maputo too were issued at the same time but no one would agree to go there. One after the other, the officers nominated to replace me, managed to get their posting orders cancelled.
On the other end I requested the Ambassador to let me leave my charge and return to Islamabad because my family had already left and I had to get my children admitted in the next classes in Pakistan in time. He would not agree. He said if I left nobody would come in my place and he would be left alone to do everything. Finally after another six months one gentleman colleague was made to take the orders and move to Maputo. When his travel schedule was communicated to the Ambassador he let me book my passage to Pakistan.
After serving the mandatory three-year period at the Headquarters my name was included among those to be posted abroad. I had done a hardship post in Mozambique so it was now my turn for a better station. A couple of posts in advanced countries of Western Europe were promised to me but other colleagues were smarter than I was. But at the end I did not get a bad deal. I was not ‘down and out’ after all, but instead ‘down under’.
My passport and my family’s were sent to the Australian High Commission in Islamabad who made a few mistakes in issuing appropriate visas. This caused us delays at the intermediate point – Singapore – and on arrival in Sydney where we were held up for 5-6 hours. Sitting idly at Sydney airport we, for the first time, observed Australians in their own backyard. Many men went around in shorts and without shoes while others wore neckties. It was the month of January (1993) and in the southern hemisphere it was summer. The concrete floors and the hard road surfaces were quite hot yet the Australians addressing each other with a cheery ‘Hey, mate’ were at ease walking around bare footed. An integral part of the traditional Australian outfit is the Akubra hat. This iconic fur felt hat symbolizes the unique Australian national culture and was much in evidence at Sydney.
We reached Canberra, ACT (Australian Capital Territory) by a domestic flight; were received there by my Embassy colleagues and lodged in a guest house for a few days before we found a house on rent. Canberra is the only entirely planned city of Australia, just as Islamabad is the only planned city in Pakistan. But unlike us the Australians have kept the city tidy, trim and proper, allowing no encroachments and violations of planning and building rules. Canberra, the capital of Australia, is the largest inland city, 280 km south west of Sydney and 660 km north-east of Melbourne. The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the nation’s capital in 1908 as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two largest cities.
[quote]Every park and open space, even miles away from the centre, has sturdy benches and chairs for picnickers [/quote]
The city is spread over a wide expanse. The river that passes through it has been dammed to make a beautiful artificial lake around which prominent buildings and institutions of national significance are located. Conspicuous among these are the Parliament House and the National Library. There are separate walking and bicycle tracks throughout the city. Lush green, properly tended parks and lawns surround all districts of the city. Every park and open space in the forest, even miles away from the centre, has sturdy benches and chairs for picnickers and visitors. And a special favour for Canberrans are the free of cost barbeque setups, complete with iron grills, tongs, platforms, wash basins, water taps and free supply of electricity. For picnics at the weekends and other holidays, residents of Canberra do not have to go far from their home. There is one irritant though. In the picnic areas of the city there is a special variety of flies — big, thick , sluggish and annoying. To be rid of these one has to constantly wave one’s hand in front of the face like a fan. This typical movement of the hand is popularly known as ‘the Australian salute’. But for shaking off these flies without using hands, the Australians have devised a special hat with corks hanging all around its brim. One has only to shake the head to make the flies fly off while the hands are free to prepare the BBQ meat and eat it too.
The word ‘Canberra’ is taken from the indigenous Aboriginal language and means meeting place. Names of many other places and institutions, like the prominent Narabunda college in Canberra, districts Yaralumla, Tuggranong, Gungahlin and the city of Wollongong are words taken from the Aboriginal language. This is part of the Government’s policy to integrate the Aborigines into the national main stream,
Australia is a middle power and well-developed country. It is the world’s 12th largest economy with the second highest human development index in the world. Australia is ranked very high globally, in terms of quality of life, health services, standard of education, economic freedom, civil liberties and political rights. The lifestyle and society’s make up reflects the nation’s mainly Western origin. Although geographically part of the Asia Pacific region Australia is much like a European or a North American country. But it also has some distinctive characteristics.
A cartoon published in one of the local newspapers during our time in Australia provided an apt commentary on its history (I reproduce it verbatim here without any racist intent, only as a faithful regurgitation). It depicted a senior citizen of a European country having landed at Sydney airport on his first ever visit to Australia. Standing in front of the immigration desk he was answering questions while the airport official was filling his disembarkation form. After asking his name, date of birth, country etc. the official asked ‘Any criminal record?’ The shocked European responded, “Sorry, I did not know it is still a condition to enter Australia.”
[quote]Their descendants have no reason to feel any embarrassment for the petty crimes of their forefathers[/quote]
The British had occupied the East coast of Australia essentially to establish a penal colony in New South Wales. On January 1788 a fleet of 11 ships from England reached Botany Bay with 736 convicts and a similar number of other persons. A settlement was then established a few kilometers to the north which grew to be Sydney, now the largest city of the country. These convicts were reportedly small-time criminals. Their descendants over the couple of centuries have no reason to feel any responsibility, or embarrassment for the petty crimes of their forefathers. But somehow a psychological hang up is still perceptible in some of the Australians. Their ‘holier than thou’ attitude manifests itself in their dealings with people from developing Asian countries, particularly the countries of the South Asian subcontinent. The media would dig up reports about bear-baiting, child-labour and prostitution etc. in these countries and present them as proofs of their backwardness and criminality. The private citizens would then send hundreds of abusive letters to the embassies of these countries. We in the embassies concerned would regularly rebut the tendentious/ malicious reports. On one such occasion our High Commissioner appeared in a TV interview, explained the laws and policies of Pakistan to deal with such crimes and other objectionable practices, but also pointed out reports of some incidents of cruelty to animals etc. in Australia itself. He said that the unlawful activities of individual citizens should not be used to malign nations. There was some respite for us thereafter, at least till the time I left.
English is Australia’s official language by usage and not by law. But Australians have their peculiar accent and some colloquial expressions that are unique to them. We Pakistanis are more familiar with British vocabulary and expressions, even American, but contact with Australians is not so frequent. Therefore for new arrivals in Australia it takes a while to understand and get used to their expressions and mannerisms.
[quote]In Australia it is against the law to harm a thief who breaks into your house[/quote]
Mr. Siddiqui, one of our Pakistani friends settled in Melbourne, now a bona fide Australian, told us of the experience of his early days. He said that soon after he arrived there he went to a big departmental store to buy clothes etc. He was going around looking in different sections. One young man (a sales assistant) passed by and said, “Are you all right”, to which he responded, “Thank you, I am all right.” A short while later a young girl, (another sales assistant), passed by and asked the same question. He gave the same answer. When the third person asked him, “Are you all right” he got annoyed. He thought perhaps to them he looked an ailing person. He retorted, “Yes I am all right. Are YOU all right?’ It took him some time and it took the salesperson some time to understand each other. Now he knows that by asking that question the shop assistants mean to ask you if you need their help.
Another day when he was leaving office at closing time, one of his native Australian colleagues asked him, “How are you going?” Mr. Siddiqui, thinking that his colleague needed a lift, replied, “Sorry, today I left my car in the garage for servicing and I am going by bus”. Later he learnt that, “How are you going” is the Australian equivalent of “How do you do”.
Like their typical accent and vocabulary, the Australians have unique flora and fauna. This continent is a sanctuary for marsupials (animals that suckle their young in pouches) prominent among which are kangaroos, platypuses, koalas, wombats, and spiny anteaters. There are some fifty species of kangaroos — an animal identified with Australia — some as tall as a man and others as small as cats.
[quote]After the Marino’s sheep wool is sheared it can be sold for just one dollar[/quote]
Another special animal is the Marino sheep much prized for their soft, fine wool. Marino sheep can be recognized by their wrinkly fleeces and skin and the rams have large curly horns. Marino sheep’s value is in its wool but its meat is no good. The Australians do not eat the meat of the Marino and after its wool is sheared it can be sold for just one dollar. There are more than fifty thousand commercial wool growers in Australia owning about 150 million sheep grazing on huge areas of the continent. That is how Australia is the largest producer and exporter of wool. In recognition of the Marino sheep’s contribution to the country’s economy a huge likeness of the Marino is built in the town of Golburn, half way between Canberra and Sydney. This 15-meter tall concrete structure , nicknamed “ Rambo” houses a souvenir shop on the ground floor and a wool display on the second. One can climb to the top and look out through the sheep’s eyes to view the local scenery.
In Australia it is a crime to kill a snake (except if killed by accident on the road). It is also against the law to harm a thief if you catch one in your house. I remember reading a piece of news in Canberra’s local newspaper about a thief who broke into a house. The inmates were woken up and alerted upon which the thief jumped through the window to try and escape. While running away he was hit by a jutting water sprinkler in the lawn and was injured. He lodged a suit against the house owner and demanded compensation. He could not steal from inside so he tried to earn from the lawn.